Monday, March 3, 2008

Remembering Edward John Carnell

Tomorrow’s chapel service at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena will be devoted to “Remembering Edward John Carnell,” Fuller’s second President. I want to add my own small contribution to Dr. Carnell’s honored memory here.

I knew Dr. Carnell and his family personally. They lived about a block away. His son John is a dear friend to this day. The Carnell home was a gentle environment where I felt completely accepted. I spent many happy afternoons there hanging out after school. John and I would sit in his room reading books, talking and listening to KRLA and what are now known as “oldies.” There was a nook just off their kitchen where John and I would watch Soupy Sales while eating open-faced peanut butter sandwiches that Mrs. Carnell had kindly made. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of their front room listening to a 45 record of “Come Softly To Me” by The Fleetwoods on their hifi, with Dr. Carnell sitting there in his chair enjoying it with me. I had no idea he was a theological genius. I had no idea what the “Dr.” in front of his name meant. To me, he was the kindhearted father of my pal down the street.

Dr. Carnell stood courageously by my dad when some John Birchers in our church accused dad of having communist tendencies. (Yes, I know that’s crazy. But how crazy we can become, when our self-importance elects us the guardians of the world.) And one Sunday night, after my dad in his sermon called the people to rededicate their lives to Christ, Dr. Carnell was the first one to join my dad in his study, where both men got down on their knees together in prayer.

In Dr. Carnell’s inaugural address as Fuller’s President in 1955, he said something that by now I have come to understand and respect:

“Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like "Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come." And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?”

Human eyes are not competent to judge human hearts. It is our responsibility to withhold personal judgments and to extend personal kindnesses.

I am thankful for Dr. Carnell and his lovely example of Christian gentlemanliness. In our coarsened age, men like him are so needed.

Dr. Carnell's books are being reprinted by Wipf and Stock: Link.